How is Cannabis sorted?

Sorting Cannabis has long been a practice performed by cultivators. In the early days, it was simply to remove the shake that was produced after drying. Bag appeal helps differentiate from competitors, so ensuring there was no shake was a widespread practice. As the cannabis market evolved, the market began to differentiate higher levels of quality by flower size. Bigger buds are often worth more than smaller buds, both in the Recreational and Legacy markets. To an outsider of cannabis, this would seem odd, “If I’m buying flower by weight, why do I want to buy a big nug with so much stem inside that I will throw away?” Large flowers typically indicate top colas and are well known as the premium part of the plant. They test higher in cannabinoids, are more colorful and denser in comparison to smaller lower flowers.

In the past sorting cannabis was typically done with different-sized wire or fabric screens. Many would build DIY sorting solutions. More recently, automation has become increasingly popular. With wholesale cannabis prices so low, the cost of production is becoming critical. Manually sorting over stationary screens can be labor intensive.

What sizes is cannabis sorter for?

Flower is now often sorted into 3 primary sizes in most regions.

  • Shake / micros: typically, 1/4” and smaller.
  • Smalls or B buds: 1/2” and smaller.
  • Bigs or A buds: 5/8” or 3/4” and bigger.

What is the best cannabis sorter?

There are a few types of automated cannabis sorters. Most will do over 100 lb. an hour, so speed is not typically a big issue. The best cannabis sorters are:

 

  • Circular Vibratory Sorters are made by companies such as Kasson. These can work well for sorting and are very accurate; however, they are the most complicated of the various sorters, they often require maintenance and they require an operator to be present to constantly monitor and load the machine. If the sorter requires an operator, ensure you add that to the cost of the sorter. Also, most have coated or painted surfaces that do not meet strict sanitary requirements and coatings often peel or flake. Some argue the vibration from these sorters reduce potency by shaking off trichomes, however, reports from many cannabis producers testing data cannot prove this claim.
  • Band Sorters are made by companies such as Mobius M9 or Greenbroz. These machines use large rubber bands connected to rollers to separate out different sizes. This style of sorter is faster than a circular vibratory sorter, however, the rubber bands tend to break, the accuracy is low as they only offer one dimension, and they are exceedingly difficult to clean – particularly the bands. Using isopropyl alcohol or other cleaners dry the bands out, and this makes them crack and break – causing downtime. These systems also require an operator to be present to feed the machine. Some will try to overcome this with a rise conveyor. Unfortunately, an operator is still required to feed the machine – ensure you add these to the cost of the solution. Rise conveyors often damage flower due to the cleats or paddles, so keep this in mind when analyzing this option.
  • Flow Through Sorters such as the S1 Sorter are newer to the market. These sorters are highly accurate like a vibratory sorter, fast like a band sorter and they auto-feed the cannabis – allowing you to spend time doing something else. As the cannabis world moves to stricter regulations such as food processing and pharmaceutical, ensuring the sorter can be thoroughly washed down is critical. Look for all stainless-steel components, not simply the product path. This ensures a long-lasting machine that can handle the most intense cleaning process.
  • If you are looking for sorting and grading together, you may want to consider the more advanced options such as Marvel AI. Marvel is an AI powered vision system that inspects both sides of every flower – then grades and sorts based on your criteria. Grading is becoming increasingly important when bulk flower purchases take place – in many industries, this is called custody transfer. Knowing the grade of every flower in a 100lb batch and an overall score of the entire batch is now possible. Brands are built on consistency, and Marvel allows greater assurance of that consistency. Quality assurance teams at cannabis producers now have a new tool to look for mold and foreign material.

Do cannabis sorters hurt potency?

There is no detectable decrease in potency from automated cannabis sorters. While there may be some trichome loss, it is not in sufficient quantities to be detectable in lab testing.

Why use a cannabis sorter?

Once sorted by size, the value of each size will vary. Example: Shake may sell for $50 a pound. Small flowers (smalls or B-buds) may sell for $200 – $300 a pound. Large flower of the same lot may sell for $800 – $1000. Sorting cannabis into sizes typically provides a higher average selling price for the entire lot.

Some packaging machines require specific flower sizes, and sorting cannabis prior to these machines is required.

Sorting Cannabis is very time consuming. One skilled person can properly sort cannabis at a rate of 5 – 10 pounds per hour. Automated sorters are 30x faster.

If the sorter has an auto feeder – meaning an operator is not required to feed the sorter – ROI is extremely fast.

Do I need a cannabis size sorter?

At some point in the process, Cannabis flower is always sorted. This may simply mean removing the shake from the flower. Some cannabis companies need 3-4 sizes for distinct products and brands. Shake can go to extraction. Micros can go to pre-rolls. Smalls can go to the value brand. Large flowers are reserved for the top shelf brand.

Conclusion

If you plan to be competitive in the cannabis space, at some point cannabis sorting is necessary.